This article was updated in December 2021.
The Disney bubble may have finally popped…
With the breaking news about Extra Magic Hours and Disney’s Magical Express being removed, staying on-site in the ‘Disney bubble’ is looking less and less attractive to vacationers scheduling Walt Disney World Resort trips. On-property Guests have a lot fewer perks than just a few years ago, while prices seem to be creeping higher. What follows now are the fates of the few perks that are left…
Perks for On-Site Guests Shrink
When planning a Walt Disney World vacation, one of the biggest questions people have is whether to stay on-property or not. When I served on the Disney Parks Moms Panel for a few years, the list of perks for staying on-property was always something I included in my answers, as the list was plentiful. But just a few years later, we see the benefits have begun to shrink, leaving us wondering what is really left for Resort guests?
When the Good Neighbor Hotels and nearby Disney Springs Area third-party resorts started picking up Extra Magic Hours and other benefits, Disney Resort Guests began to feel that staying on property at a higher expense was starting to lose its luster. Now, with Disney Parks and Resorts removing some of their big staple offerings, many prospective Guests are either looking elsewhere for accommodations or combing through the leftovers to see what perks are left.
On-Site Guest Benefits That Are Still Around
Folio Charging Abilities
When you stay at a Disney Resort Hotel, upon check-in you can leave a credit or debit card on file. When you scan your MagicBand at a merchandise or food location in the Resort, you can key in your pin and make a cashless transaction. Guests who stay on Disney property still have this handy benefit.
Early Theme Park Entry/ Extended Evening Hours
The ending of the Extra Magic Hours in 2020 left a big hole in the Resort perks for those on property. Starting October 1, 2021, all those staying at a Disney Resort Hotel can enter the Parks 30 minutes early using Early Theme Park Entry.
After-hours “Extended Evening Hours” are now only available for Deluxe Resort Hotels, Deluxe Villas, and other select hotels. Starting October 4, 2021, these hours are typically 2-3 hours after Park closing. Guests staying at Deluxe Resorts that qualify for Extended Evening Hours will need a valid Resort ID (via MagicBand, Mobile Magic, etc.), and a Theme Park reservation.
Free Resort to Park (and Park to Park) Transportation
Disney Resort Guests have long been able to hop on a bus, watercraft, monorail, or (now) Skyliner to travel to a nearby Theme Park or Resort. While it’s true that outside hotels have transportation as well, the waits can be long for one bus each hour (Shades of Green) and the walk is much further to the ends of the bus depots or charter lots. The constant flow of transportation options while staying on property is still a wonderful option.
Bellhop Transfer for Luggage
Splitting your stay? Hand over your luggage to the bellhop desk and tell the Cast Member where you want it to be sent. While you enjoy your day at a neighboring Disney Resort or Disney theme park, Cast Members will do the rest. You’ll typically be able to check your bags in the morning and see them by 3 pm at your next home Resort.
Priority Park Pass Booking
Now that Disney Park Pass reservations are a part of the booking game, on-property guests still get priority for making Park Pass reservations with their vacation packages or tickets. We can’t say the same for other situations. For example, Annual Passholders can only hold a few Park reservations at a time, unlike a potential 10-day Park visit for a family staying at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside (this is an example).
Resort Entertainment… (sort of)
Keeping the magic with you when you head back to your room has always been a wonderful perk of staying on property. The themed rooms, pools, lounges, and restaurants add a depth of magic to the Disney Resort Hotels. But that being said, anyone can visit a Disney Resort for dining, shopping walking, and activities. Pool hopping is not allowed, but most of this is available to visitors and not just Disney Resort Guests.
Disney Dining Plan
Many families love leaving the worry at home and purchasing the Disney Dining Plan. While my professional opinion is that it’s a waste of money unless you have starving bottomless pit teenagers, many Disney Guests still love it. In May of 2020, Disney halted all Disney Dining Plans and has announced that the DDP will return. Being that it’s a veritable cash cow for the Parks to offer these (draws more vacationers, higher attendance during free dining, etc), this reporter is confident it will return in full force.
Earlier Genie+ and Lightning Lane Access
If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, you’ll be getting a big head start on purchasing Individual Lightning Lane passes and queuing up Genie+ service for your day. Staying off property means you’ll have to wait for the Parks to open in order to begin making your choices – which has become an enormous perk of staying on property. Genie+ can be enabled at midnight and attraction choices can be selected starting at 7 a.m.
When you’re ready to plan your on-property (or off-property!) visit to Walt Disney World, contact the award-winning team at Academy Travel. They know exactly how to help you have a seamless vacation.
RIP – Perks That Are Gone
MagicBands, Disney’s answer to the Key to the World replacement is a plastic wristband containing an RFID chip. The chip holds information that connects you to your My Disney Experience account as well as tickets and Annual Passes.
Complimentary solid color MagicBands (complete with personalization) have been a special offering for the last six years (or so) upon making a Walt Disney World Resort reservation, but now that benefit has been slashed. A $10+ “cheaper” MagicBand purchase is offered instead of the once complimentary offering.
Disney says, “Guests will have the option to purchase MagicBands, up to 10 days before arrival at special pre-arrival prices. These bands can be personalized with different MagicBand colors, favorite Disney characters, and fun themes—and can even be customized with your name.” Personally, I believe this is because of the intense waste seen at check-in counters where masses of MagicBands were never picked up or used.
Extra Magic Hours
The “temporary” suspension of Extra Magic Hours in 2020 has now turned a bit more serious. Disney announced via the Disney Parks Blog this week that a new offering called Early Theme Park Entry will be replacing Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World Resort. Instead of Extra Magic Hours being offered at select Disney World theme parks, Early Theme Park Entry will be offered every day at all four theme parks. Soon, Disney Resort hotel Guests and the Guests at other hotels that offer Disney World benefits will get to enter any theme park 30 minutes before opening time on any day of their vacation.
Since Disney Parks often allows Guests into the park (Ex: Main Street, U.S.A.) early, this doesn’t seem to be an attractive benefit unless we hear more about what to expect.
Disney’s Magical Express Bus Service
The much-loved complimentary bus service to and from Orlando MCO airport was a huge benefit to large families or families with children. Departing at multiple times during the day, Disney’s Magical Express would carry luggage, carryons, strollers, and more back and forth from the airport, with custom television screens showing vacation tips, classic cartoons, and advertisements. The Mickey-clad buses were always a sign that your vacation really had started.
Ending in the end of 2021, the removal of the service is already being lamented by Disney Parks Guests everywhere. Mears, the bus company Disney uses, has commented that they would like to offer a comparative service when “DME” is discontinued.
Resort Airline Check-in and Baggage Delivery
Resort Airline Check-In was a beautiful service. Right before boarding Disney’s Magical Express (or the first thing that morning) you could stop by an external desk at any Disney Resort Hotel and check in to your flight. Your bags would be weighed, checked, and taken to the airport for you, and you would even get a boarding pass. This left you to enjoy your last few hours (baggage-free!) at your Disney Resort or possibly in the parks. We are really sad to see this service has ended.
When Walt Disney World reopened in the summer of 2020, they announced that FastPass+ would be suspended. The parks needed the queue room to space out Guests safely as they waited to board an attraction. With the previous news of Disney Genie being rolled out and the success of the paid MaxPass program at Disneyland Resort, FastPass+ will never return. The Genie+ app debuted in 2021 and has left fans wanting a service that actually works and serves its purpose. This just ain’t it.
Temporarily Unavailable – Will It Return?
While drivers have been let go, the Minnie Vans themselves are languishing. The Lyft-connected rideshare service offered polka-dotted red vehicles to whisk your party of six (with two car seats) anywhere on Walt Disney World property, and later back and forth to the MCO airport and Port Canaveral. This themed service has been discontinued for the moment, but we’re not sure when it will return, if at all.
Merchandise Pickup and Delivery
This service has been a “secret” benefit for those that knew about it. Often, when making a physically large or cumbersome purchase at a Disney location (typically at a theme park) a Cast Member might offer Merchandise Pickup. Your purchase would be sent to the front of the park for later pickup. It took about 3 hours to be guaranteed ready but allowed Disney Guests to board attractions unencumbered.
Another option for on-property Disney Guests was Merchandise Delivery. Much like the pickup option, the delivery variety had the merchandise purchases delivered to the Guests’ Resort hotel. The gift shop would have the items for pick up the next day. We’re unsure if this benefit will return, but with the eventual rehiring of Disney Cast Members and the reopening of Resorts, we’re confident that this service will eventually be offered again.
What is your favorite perk of being on-property Guests at Walt Disney World Resort? Leave us a comment and tell us if it’s still around!